A Via Rail EMD F40PH leads the International with Amtrak Hi-Level and Superliner coaches into East Lansing in 1996. Click to enlarge.

(David Wilson, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


VIA logo.
Amtrak classic logo.


The International (formerly International Limited) was a named passenger train operated between Chicago and Toronto. The original International Limited was an overnight train operated by the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and its successors the Canadian National Railway and Grand Trunk Western Railroad, running as far as Montreal. The train was cut back to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1970 and discontinued in 1971.

In 1982, Amtrak and Via Rail revived the route by extending Amtrak's Blue Water Limited from Port Huron to Toronto. It was renamed as the International the next year. The service was initially successful but encountered numerous funding crises in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Substantial delays crossing the international border after the September 11th attacks, combined with freight congestion and the 2003 SARS outbreak, drastically reduced ridership. In 2004, the train was replaced with the Blue Water, which offered a better interstate schedule and higher reliability.


International with LRC locomotive.
International at Stratford.

The westbound International led by a Via LRC locomotive at Flint station in November 1982. (Hikki Nagasaki, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The International began serving Stratford (pictured in 2004) in 1990. (Hikki Nagasaki, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Amtrak/Via operation

In 1974, Amtrak restored service over the GTW to Port Huron with the Blue Water (renamed the Blue Water Limited in 1975). After Via Rail took over Canadian intercity passenger services in 1978, Amtrak saw a chance to improve the Blue Water Limited's financial performance by extending it to Toronto. Talks between the agencies began in late 1981. Negotiations soon reached a stalemate; Michigan desired a later Sunday schedule so that weekend travelers to Toronto could return late in the evening, but Via did not. Michigan was also worried about losing day trips to Chicago; supported primarily by ridership west of East Lansing, the Blue Water Limited was Amtrak's most-used state-supported route with only one daily round trip.

The New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, introduced in April 1981, had proved an immediate success, and Amtrak and Via soon reached an agreement to extend the Blue Water Limited to Toronto as well. Via accepted the later Sunday train and agreed to share equipment for the route. Michigan funded a Flint-Battle Creek bus, which connected with the westbound Wolverine and eastbound Twilight Limited, to preserve Flint-Chicago day trips. The International Limited began operations on October 31, 1982, replacing the Blue Water Limited. In contrast to its predecessor, it used ex-Penn Central trackage west of Battle Creek, Michigan—in common with Amtrak's other Michigan trains—and ran on a daylight schedule. On June 13, 1983, Amtrak renamed the train the International, which it carried until its discontinuance.

On January 15, 1990, Via moved the International off its original CN route to a more northerly route between London and Toronto. The new route enabled it to service Kitchener, Ontario, but added an hour to its running time. There were also several never-enacted proposals to reroute the train within Michigan. A 1984 state plan would have run the International through Grand Rapids; instead, the independent Pere Marquette was started using funds saved by the startup of the International Limited and the discontinuance of the Michigan Executive. In 1995, during a funding crunch, Amtrak proposed routing the International through Durand, Pontiac, and Detroit, thus dropping Flint and Port Huron. In 2000, Amtrak proposed moving the train entirely to the Chicago–Detroit line later that year. Detroit station would have been skipped entirely; Amtrak would no longer have used state funds for the International, though they may have been used for a replacement Port Huron train instead. Neither proposal was ultimately enacted.


Signage at the Flint station denoting the current Blue Water destination and International Limited destination.

(Adam Moss, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Decline and discontinuance

Beginning in the late 1990s, Amtrak services in Michigan suffered a series of funding crises. The Pere Marquette was reduced to four times a week in April 1995; that September, a state commission voted to reduce the International to quad-weekly to restore daily operation on the Pere Marquette. The commission elected to keep the daily International in January 1996; in 1997, the state and Amtrak agreed to an 18-month contract lasting through March 31, 1999. Despite an extension, Amtrak proposed to end the train on October 2, 2000. After negotiations proceeded well, the state approved $6.7 million on January 17, 2001, to continue funding for the International. With ridership falling, state officials were reluctant to pursue a long-term funding solution, instead opting for small extensions often by diverting other rail funds.

Until 2001, the International had a customs stop of about one hour, with U.S. officials conducting screenings on the train at Port Huron. After the September 11 attacks, security personnel were redeployed to the Blue Water Bridge, and U.S. Customs refused to continue on-board screenings. (On-board screenings continued on Amtrak's two of the three other border-crossing routes; Amtrak Cascades uses preclearance instead) Westbound passengers had to be bussed with their luggage from Sarnia to Port Huron, costing Amtrak $27,000 a month. The security issues caused massive delays, even after on-board screening resumed on February 19, 2002, amid complaints from the state and both railroads. By this time, just 8 to 15 passengers crossed the border on a typical day.

Delays caused by the border crossing and freight congestion continued to erode ridership, as did the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto. Ridership plunged from 125,126 in 1997 to just 88,045 in 2002. Amtrak suggested to Michigan that the International be truncated to Port Huron, which would allow for a more reliable trip on the former Blue Water Limited schedule, restore connections in Chicago, and allow day trips to Chicago. With state agreement, the final International ran eastbound on April 22, 2004, and westbound the next day (along with a Port Huron eastbound on the International schedule). On April 24, 2004, the Port Huron-Chicago Blue Water began operation. Via retained a single daily Toronto-Sarnia round trip that was merged into its Corridor service, but a planned Port Huron-Sarnia bus was never implemented.


The International with Vialocomotive in 1994.

The International with a Via locomotive and Amtrak coaches in 1994.

(Hikki Nagasaki, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



In its early years, the train usually consisted of two or three coaches and a food-service / custom-class car combination. Amtrak and Via alternated equipment: Amtrak used diesel locomotives and Amfleet coaches, while Via used LRCs and Tempo coaches. Equipment assignments and allocations frequently changed; after the Via equipment was sidelined due to winter conditions in 1985, only Amtrak cars were used. On August 10, 1988, Via began using nine LRC passenger cars with the tilt mechanism removed (making them compatible with Amtrak cafe cars) pulled by F40PH locomotives.

In November 1995, all trains began using four or five Amtrak Superliner and Hi-Level cars, pulled by Via F40PH locomotives. The F40PHs were not compatible with the newly installed Incremental Train Control System, so they were replaced with Amtrak P32-8WH locomotives late in 1999. The Horizonz Fleet was substituted beginning in 2000 to allow the Superliners to add capacity to western trains, and Genesis locomotives were used in the final years.


International Limited Route Map. Click to enlarge.

(Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0)



Service type: Intercity rail
Status: Discontinued
Locale: Midwestern United States/Southern Ontario
Predecessor: Blue Water Limited
First service: October 31, 1982
Last service: April 23, 2004
Successor: Blue Water
Former operators: Amtrak, Via Rail (jointly)
Route Termini: Chicago, Illinois / Toronto, Ontario
Stops: 19
Distance traveled: 502 mi (808 km)
Average journey time: 10 hours 47 minutes
Service frequency: Daily
Train numbers Amtrak: 364, 365, 367
Train numbers Via: 88, 85, 685
On-board services
Classes: Reserved coach
Catering facilities: On-board café
Rolling stock: Superliner coaches
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)